I seem to drive a lot between Seattle and Olympia these days – and for those of you unfamiliar with our state, Olympia is the capital, and it’s also home the Evergreen State College where both of my children go to school. My son has his own car, and drives up when he wants. My daughter still needs transportation. Between doctors appointments, seeing her boyfriend, and putting a new shade of magenta in her hair, which only her stylist in Seattle is capable of doing well, I’m on the road a couple of times a month.
Last night, cruising down I-5 in the dimming glow of a lovely twilight (the rain finally having stopped) I saw something very peculiar. A flock of very large birds just drifting on a current of air, not rising, not really falling either, just sort of moving gently from south to north. But they weren’t birds, but men, and probably some women, from Joint Base Lewis McCord on a parachute exercise. The plane they’d jumped out of was making its way out of their tiny section of sky. After a moment or so, the strange suspension continued. They weren’t falling, but floating. Top of the line parachutes, bought before the sequester, no doubt, made their progress very gentle.
It occurred to me that this is what good writing does. It suspends us, carries us a long, and give us a gentle progress. I’m not one for shock value, though I don’t believe in giving the reader a false, nicey-nice world, either. Truth is truth and it’s often ugly, but you can hand it out elegantly, gracefully, even beautifully.
I was inspired to write this after returning again to my two favorite writers, William Trevor and Alice Munro. Trevor’s prose is ethereal, subtle, almost to the point of bending reality so you’re not entirely certain what’s going on for a moment or two. Munro stays closer to ground with her complex tales of intersecting lives. And while she doesn’t mince words, you come away feeling like you’ve been in the company of a keen observer who never needs to overstate things.
I suppose middle-age has shaped my sensibilities. Maybe living several decades on earth makes any experience of grace highly valuable and precious. Or maybe I’m recalling what I felt long ago, before I ever picked up a pen – that the most important goal of art is to create something of lasting beauty.